Skip to main content

Reuters social media editor accused of helping Anonymous hack LA Times

The deputy social media editor for Reuters was indicted yesterday by a US federal grand jury for his alleged assistance in the 2010 hack of his former employers, which was carried out by members of Anonymous.

Matthew Keys faces up to 25 years in prison and fines of $750,000 (£495,000) for handing over his login information to the content management system for KTXL FOX 40, which led to an Anonymous member defacing a story on the LA Times website.

Keys worked as a Web producer at KTXL FOX 40, but was fired in October 2010. Two months later, during an Internet relay chat (IRC), a member of Anonymous said he wanted to hack Fox. Keys offered up his login information and instructed the Anons to "go f**k some s**t up," according to the indictment, which was posted online by Politico.

A hacker known by the name sharpie on IRC proceeded to log in and alter a story about US congressional politics to say that "CHIPPY 1337" would become head of the US Senate.

"[T]hat was such a buzz having my edit on the LA Times," sharpie told Keys in 2010. "Nice," Keys responded.

Keys went on to be an online news producer for another TV station before landing at Reuters in January 2012. He was charged with promoting the wire service's stories across various social platforms, like Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and Tumblr.

Now, however, he is facing one count of conspiracy to transmit information to damage a protected computer, transmitting information to damage a protected computer, and attempted transmission of information to damage a protected computer. The first two counts carry 10-year sentences each and $250,000 (£165,000) in fines, while the conspiracy charge could land him five years in jail and another $250,000 fine, according to the Department of Justice.

In a tweet posted after the news broke, Keys wrote: "I am fine. I found out the same way most of you did: From Twitter. Tonight I'm going to take a break. Tomorrow, business as usual."

Interestingly, as Buzzfeed noted, Keys's involvement in the Fox hack was mentioned on Twitter on March 2011. At the time, a hacker known as Sabu tweeted that Keys "gave full control of to hackers." Keys was also mentioned in a June 2012 book about Anonymous.

By March 2012, the FBI charged six hackers associated with Anonymous and LulzSec with cyber crimes - thanks to information provided by Sabu, or Hector Xavier Monsegur.

The hefty fines Keys is facing, meanwhile, have also prompted online chatter about the government's overreach on cybercrime - especially in light of the suicide of Aaron Swartz. "Hackers can indeed do some scary things. But it feels like federal prosecutors are equating seemingly small infractions like defacing a website with very serious scenarios like derailing trains and exploding toxic chemicals," a post on The Atlantic reads.

Swartz was in hot water for downloading 4.8 million articles from JSTOR, a non-profit archive of academic journals, after tapping into the site from a computer wiring closet at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. All told, Swartz could have spent more than 50 years in prison and faced approximately $4 million (£2.6 million) in fines if convicted.

Swartz's suicide prompted former US Representative Zoe Lofgren to propose legislation that would update the Computer Fraud & Abuse Act so that violating terms of service do not carry such hefty sentences. Whether or not that would help Keys, though, remains to be seen.

Later today, the American Library Association and Lofgren will posthumously award Swartz the 2013 James Madison Award "for his dedication to promoting and protecting public access to research and government information."